Some Definitions:

Social and Emotional Intelligence: How we recognize, understand, and manage ourselves/our emotions and navigate social contexts successfully.

Experiential Learning: Learning by doing, “hands on learning”.

Social Learning: learning by observing others, “monkey see, monkey do”.

Symbolic Interactionism: assigning meaning and symbolism to poignant, salient events, people, places, things, experiences in our lives which then defines our worldview or personal perspectives.

Strength-Based: acknowledging/recognizing an individual or group’s skills and talents and building on them and channeling them in productive ways.

Ecological Systems: How organisms (in this case people) interact with and within systems, lived experience.

Neuroplasticity: The brain physically changes based on the intentional focus we engage in learning to create and strengthen neural pathways through redundant, novel/visceral, experiential, consistent, aerobic/action oriented, meaningful activities/exercises. As Canadian psychologist Donald Hebb’s remarked, “neurons that fire together wire together.” Action or movement is required for neurons to fire. When we intentionally focus the above ingredients–we create new neural pathways and strengthen synaptic connectivity in our brains through neuroplasticity.





What happens when you combine the ingredients for neuroplasticity and applied theory in practice? You get what I have referred to for years as THE MARINADE. The integration, or melding of these ingredients (recent findings in neuroscience combined with 5 major theoretical basis/applications) are necessary for social and emotional learning to become social and emotional intelligence.

Experiences (lived experiences/experiential) that are (ingredients for neuroplasticity):

  1. Visceral
  2. Redundant
  3. Require intentional focus
  4. Experiential
  5. Consistent
  6. Novel
  7. Movement/Aerobic (action/movement is required to activate neurons)
  8. Sense of meaning/purpose

Combined with the five following theoretical basis/applications:

Experiential Learning

Social Learning

Symbolic Interactionism

Strength-Based and

Ecological Systems Theories =


DIRT GROUP is an award winning, trauma and resiliency informed children’s mental health application grounded in social and emotional learning, in the context of an experiential group gardening, farming, foods, and creative arts project. Informed by recent findings in neuroscience and applied theory in practice the implications for practice in youth development are profound.

For more information please visit

Menakem, R. (2017) My grandmother’s hands

Siegel, D. (2011) Mindsight

Siegel, D. (2012) The pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology

Turck, K.S. (2011) DIRT GROUP: Growing to learn, learning to grow. How does participation in experiential gardening groups influence social skill development in at-risk youth.

Van der Kolk, B. (2017) The Body Keeps the Score

Social & Emotional Learning-the Power of Our Lived Experiences.

Emotional Dysregulation. Intentionally and redundantly focused on “easy, fast, fun–now” (Walsh, D. 2004)–severely limits opportunities to experience discomfort, disappointment, frustration, failure, rejection, problem solving, etc.

How do we learn to bounce back in life without having intentionally focused, redundant opportunities to live/learn, practice, and master these skills if we never have to face these challenges throughout our formative years.

In an upcoming webcast, Kenny will explore the implications for child/youth/human development and mental health in this era of immediate gratification/emotional dysregulation and how our obsession with convenience and ever increasing ease has impacted everyday, common opportunities for social and emotional learning.

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4 1/2 pints of processed, organic rosemary, November 2018. St. Cloud DIRT GROUP